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Whitey Herzog, Hall of Fame manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, dies at 92

Former St. Louis Cardinals manager and member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Whitey Herzog (R) is interviewed with fellow member Ozzie Smith during a St. Louis Cardinals Fantasy Camp event in St. Louis.
Bill Greenblatt
Former St. Louis Cardinals manager and member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Whitey Herzog, right, is interviewed with fellow member Ozzie Smith during a St. Louis Cardinals Fantasy Camp event in St. Louis on Sept. 19, 2019.

Whitey Herzog, the innovative and popular Hall of Fame manager who ran both of Missouri’s Major League Baseball teams and returned the Cardinals to World Series glory after a 15-year drought, has died, the team confirmed Tuesday morning. He was 92.

“On behalf of the entire St. Louis Cardinals organization, I would like to offer our condolences to the family and many friends of Whitey Herzog,” said Cardinals’ Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bill DeWitt Jr. in a statement. “Whitey and his teams played a big part in changing the direction of the Cardinals franchise in the early 1980s with an exciting style of play that would become known as 'Whitey Ball' throughout baseball. Whitey loved the Cardinals, their fans, and St. Louis. He will be sorely missed.”

Herzog, who lived in Sunset Hills with his wife, Mary Lou, spent more than four decades in the game. He never became a star player in the majors, famously being caught behind Mickey Mantle on the New York Yankees’ depth charts. It was after he transitioned to other baseball jobs — scout, coach, general manager, farm system director and, especially, manager — that he found his path to Cooperstown.

“Whitey spent his last few days surrounded by his family. We have so appreciated all of the prayers and support from friends who knew he was very ill. Although it is hard for us to say goodbye, his peaceful passing was a blessing for him," the Herzog family said in a statement.

In building and managing the Cardinals, Herzog followed a strategy that was so successful and popular that it was named after him. Along the way, he didn’t hesitate to break convention by trading away popular players, grabbing a misbehaving shortstop and pulling him off the field, playing pitchers in the outfield and wrestling with an opposing manager during an on-field brawl. And he won 1,281 major league games, 822 of them with the Cardinals.

Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred also paid tribute to Herzog in a statement released Tuesday.

“Whitey Herzog was one of the most accomplished managers of his generation and a consistent winner with both ‘I-70’ franchises. He made a significant impact on the St. Louis Cardinals as both a manager and a general manager, with the Kansas City Royals as a manager, and with the New York Mets in player development. Whitey’s Cardinals’ teams reached the World Series three times in the 1980s, winning the Championship in 1982, by leaning on an identity of speed and defense that resonated with baseball fans across the world," Manfred said.

Former St. Louis Cardinals manager and member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Whitey Herzog is introduced during a St. Louis Cardinals Fantasy Camp event in St. Louis on Thursday, September 19, 2019. Herzog suffered a stroke on September 16, 2019 during the annual Whitey Herzog Golf Tournament. Herzog was transported to a local hospital where he remained overnight before being released.
Bill Greenblatt
Whitey Herzog is introduced during a St. Louis Cardinals Fantasy Camp event in St. Louis in Sept. 19, 2019. Herzog had suffered a stroke three days earlier during the annual Whitey Herzog Golf Tournament. He was released from a hospital after an overnight stay.

A Cardinals fan early

Dorrel Norman Elvert Herzog grew up 40 miles from St. Louis in New Athens, Ill., the second of Edgar and Lietta Herzog’s three sons. As a boy, he made deliveries, dug graves and cleaned up at Mound City Brewery, where his father worked; his mother worked in a shoe factory. Dorrel would sometimes skip school and catch a bus to St. Louis to see Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter play at Sportsman’s Park.

A left-handed pitcher, outfielder and first baseman on his high school team, Herzog drew interest from colleges including St. Louis University. But he passed on college, signing instead with the New York Yankees in 1949, the same year the team signed Mantle. Herzog was sent to a Class D team in Oklahoma, where he picked up his nickname when a broadcaster decided Herzog, with his light blond hair, reminded him of Yankees pitcher Bob “White Rat” Kuzava.

He was back and forth between the majors and minors through the 1950s and spent two years in the Corps of Engineers during the Korean War. His first managerial assignment was at Fort Leonard Wood. Back in the minors, he hit .289 with 21 home runs and 98 runs batted in for the Yankees’ AAA team in Denver in 1955.

Herzog seemed to be on his way, though he’d receive a lesson in humility when visiting New Athens. People would tell him, “Your brother Herman was a better player than you,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Instead of calling him up after his stellar season, New York traded him. He went to the Washington Senators, Kansas City A’s, Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers, then retired as a player in 1963. The next stage of his career went better.

“Baseball has been good to me,” he often said, “since I quit trying to play it."

Up the ladder

Herzog scouted for Kansas City and coached for a season before jumping to New York. He was the Mets’ third-base coach, then director of player development. And he managed a professional team for the first time, the Mets team in the Florida Instructional League. Herzog quit the organization when Mets manager Gil Hodges died in 1972 and the job went to Yogi Berra.

Herzog quickly landed his first major league managerial job, with the Texas Rangers, a team the Society for American Baseball Research describes as “somewhat dysfunctional.” The 1973 season didn’t go well; after clashing with the owner, Herzog was fired partway through, with a 47-91 record. He coached for the California Angels, then was hired to manage the Royals in 1975.

The Royals, whose star was third baseman George Brett, a future Hall of Famer, were better than the Rangers. Herzog became successful and popular with fans, as the Royals topped their division three times in his first five seasons, winning more than 90 games in three seasons. Again, the Yankees were in his way. Three times, the Royals couldn’t get past them in the playoffs to reach the World Series.

It was in Kansas City that Herzog began employing a style endorsed by Casey Stengel, his manager with the Yankees. In a large ballpark with artificial turf, Herzog relied on players who brought outstanding defense and speed, as well as solid pitching, instead of power hitters. The Royals won their first division title in 1976 while hitting only 65 home runs. The 1977 team won 102 games. That style of play would work in St. Louis, too.

After battles with owner Ewing Kaufman, Herzog was fired after the 1979 season. He left as the Royals’ winningest manager, at 410-304.

Across the state, the Cardinals’ owner was starting to think about replacing his manager, Ken Boyer. Herzog declined a job as a consultant but offered his assessment of the team anyway. A few weeks later, Herzog signed on as general manager and manager. “Get me one more championship,” Gussie Busch told him.

Busch and the Cardinals

The new boss found the team a mess. “I’ve never seen such a bunch of misfits,” Herzog said. “Nobody would run out a ball. Nobody in the bullpen wanted the ball.” There were drugs and bad attitudes in the clubhouse, Peter Golenbock wrote in “The Spirit of St. Louis,” and Herzog told Busch a housecleaning was needed. “Keep me posted,” Busch answered.

The first thing Herzog did was leave. He looked over the players in the Cardinals system for the rest of the 1980 season, putting Red Schoendienst in charge of the major league team while he was gone. Herzog didn’t find much talent in the minor leagues, either.

“At that time in baseball, nobody was hitting a lot of home runs, and they certainly weren’t being hit at Busch Stadium,” Herzog wrote in the forward to “Whitey’s Boys,” by Rob Rains and Alvin Reid. The players weren’t suited to the Cardinals’ spacious home field. Butch Yatkeman told him it was the slowest team he’d seen in his 57 years as equipment manager. “We needed guys who could run, who could play defense, and we needed pitchers who could utilize those strengths — don’t walk people, and get the batter to hit the ball on the ground,” Herzog wrote.

The new general manager went to work. In one year, 31 players joined or left the Cardinals, the Belleville News-Democrat reported. He traded away Ken Reitz and Leon Durham for star reliever Bruce Sutter. He acquired Lonnie Smith to play left field and catcher Darrel Porter to replace future Hall of Famer Ted Simmons, who was sent to Milwaukee. He traded for starting pitcher Joaquin Andujar and installed Tommy Herr at second base. He brought up Willie McGee after an injury to David Green in 1982.

And he traded for Ozzie Smith. Herzog had yanked his shortstop into the dugout by the arm after he made an obscene gesture to booing fans in 1981. Garry Templeton went to San Diego when Herzog talked Smith into coming to St. Louis, telling him he thought they’d win a World Series if he became a Cardinal.

A key to Herzog’s rebuilding was his access to Busch. Herzog would talk over his plans with the owner at his home, Grant’s Farm, over a card game, food and beer. Busch was supportive. “He and I talk the same language,” Busch later said, the Society for American Baseball Research reports.

Herzog had put together his kind of team. “Those guys weren’t worried about money, what they were going to be making next year,” he later wrote. “They just wanted to play and have a good time, and that’s what they did.”

The team hit a total of 67 home runs in 1982, fewest in the major leagues. But the Cardinals caught the ball, pitched well and ran. They played what became known as “Whiteyball.” The style was solidified one Sunday afternoon at Busch, when the team’s third-string catcher stole home with two outs and two strikes in the 12th inning for a victory.

The Cardinals won the division by three games, then swept the Braves in a best-of-five playoff, helped by well-timed rainouts. They kicked off the World Series against the Milwaukee Brewers with Busch riding around the stadium behind the Clydesdales and Smith doing a backflip on the way to his position. The season ended with Sutter standing on the mound at Busch, his arms raised, after striking out Gorman Thomas in the ninth inning of Game 7. Gussie Busch had one more championship, his first since 1967.

The next season did not go well, establishing a pattern for the ’80s. “What I didn’t count on was how quickly things can go sour on you in this game,” Herzog said. He again traded a popular and talented player, Keith Hernandez, for two pitchers who weren’t much help, upsetting fans and players. Herzog thought Hernandez’s attitude was part of the team’s problem.

The Cardinals bounced back in 1985, winning 101 games and beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs that included Ozzie Smith’s “Go Crazy” home run. That set up an all-Missouri World Series that the Cardinals seemed about to win in Game 6 in Kansas City. But after an umpire blew a call at first base, the Cardinals lost their lead and the game. The meltdown carried over to an ugly Game 7, with Herzog and Andujar ejected. The Royals, Herzog’s former team, had their first championship.

The Cardinals slipped again the next year, then won 95 games in 1987 though no starting pitcher won more than 11 games. They beat the Giants in the playoffs to reach the World Series. The Minnesota Twins played well in their home ballpark, a domed stadium, but not on the road. That’s how the series broke down, with the home team winning every game. St. Louis lost 4-3, playing without the injured Jack Clark and Terry Pendleton.

With Gussie Busch’s health failing over the next few years, Herzog found himself dealing with a more corporate decision-making process. He had trouble getting answers from Anheuser-Busch, the real owner of the team, and Busch’s son started talking about selling. Herzog quit in July 1990, months after Busch died. The team was in last place, veteran players weren’t signed for the next season, and the farm system was weak, the Washington Post reported. "I just feel very badly for the ballclub, the organization and the fans,” Herzog said. “I don't think that I have done a good job as a manager this year.”

His record with the Cardinals ended 827-728, with three pennants and one world championship. The team’s success and Herzog’s style of play were reflected on the bottom line. The team had last drawn 2 million fans in 1968; attendance crossed 3 million twice during Herzog’s reign. The Cardinals broke attendance records five times in his 10 years.

Herzog returned to baseball in various jobs with the Angels, including general manager. He similarly promised their owner, Gene Autrey, a World Series title, the Los Angeles Times reported, but didn’t deliver this time. Herzog resigned in 1994, ending his 45-year career in baseball.


In 2010, Herzog was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, where his plaque says he was “renowned for being two steps ahead of opposing managers" and "maximized player contributions with a stern yet good-natured style.”

Not everyone appreciated Whiteyball. In a 1986 game, the Giants were offended that Vince Coleman stole two bases with the Cardinals leading by eight runs, then tried to score on a wild pitch. When the Giants appeared to throw at Coleman later, the benches emptied, UPI reported. Herzog and San Francisco manager Roger Craig argued, then shoved each other, then everyone joined in the scuffle. Herzog wrestled with a couple of other Giants, too. Police charged onto the field, the Sporting News reported.

“It’s an outrage,” Herzog told the Associated Press after the game, adding that if Craig “wants us to stop running, he can send over a note promising to stop trying to hit home runs.” The Giants did homer and got the winning run to the plate before the game ended. “That’s why we run,” Herzog said.

In 1988, with his pitching staff spent, Herzog sent utility player Jose Oquendo to the mound for four innings in a 19-inning loss to the Braves. At the same time, starting pitcher Jose DeLeon went to the outfield, moving between left and right, depending on the batter, 11 times in four innings. The next day, Herzog asked Oquendo, whose arm was killing him, if he could play outfield, the Post-Dispatch reported. Oquendo didn’t object. “We know our roles,” he said.

When the Cardinals had one stellar right-handed closer and one left-handed one – Todd Worrell and Ken Dayley – Herzog often would alternate them between the mound and the outfield in the late innings to get the better pitching matchup.

“I think what he did was to get everybody focused on more team-oriented goals instead of individual goals,” Tommy Herr later said. “Obviously, with Whitey over here, the thinking of the whole organization changed to go along with his philosophy.”

Hernandez, though he was traded by Herzog, later called him the “best I ever played for.”

In retirement in St. Louis, Herzog regularly attended Cardinals games, did charity work, gave interviews about the current team and the state of baseball, and appeared in local commercials. And he was always onstage for the team’s Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, helping his former players into their new red jackets.

Bob Cronin is a copy editor and obituary writer for St. Louis Public Radio.